Despite opposition to war, Europe is fascinated by it

Coverage of combat dominates TV, papers

War in Iraq

March 23, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS - After being gripped for weeks in an anti-war mood, Europeans are devouring all they can learn of the mechanics of war: troops, tanks, ships, aircraft and cruise missiles.

Newspapers are filled with maps and graphics, while television and radio programs are lining up retired generals to explain strategy. The perception is that all debate about a postwar Iraq depends on the outcome of hostilities.

Television, radio and newspapers have provided saturation coverage of the advance of American and British troops and the airstrikes on the Iraqi capital, Baghdad - many of the reports supplied by European journalists on the ground in the region. By contrast, a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels, Belgium, late last week was given scant attention.

Even in countries such as France, where both government views and public opinion were strongly against the war, reporting appears to be largely objective as news organizations struggle to gather information from Washington, London, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq.

Only in Britain has the presence of British troops in Iraq given a patriotic tint to coverage in some newspapers, notably Rupert Murdoch's Sun, which proclaimed on its front page Friday that "U.K.'s Marines and Paras Lead Attack."

After their experience in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, however, many European news managers are also wary of information provided by the United States and Britain. Many said that during that campaign to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, they were manipulated by official versions that later proved erroneous.

This time, though, many European news outlets have reporters closer to the action and in some cases, traveling with American and British military units.

Starting Thursday, major television networks across Europe scrapped many scheduled programs to provide live coverage of the war. All-news channels came into their own, such as France's LCI, Britain's BBC News 24 and Sky News, and Germany's N-TV, which is in partnership with CNN. BBC World, the international television channel, and CNN are also widely available in Europe by cable or satellite.

In Italy, even morning shows usually devoted to cooking and dysfunctional families adjusted their tone. On one show Thursday, the hostesses were wearing sweaters instead of their customary bikinis as an Iraqi refugee recounted being tortured by President Saddam Hussein's government. On another show Friday, after a Kurdish refugee talked about her persecution, the hosts read peace poems sent in by viewers and sang "We Are the World."

In Germany, among television reporters still in Baghdad, Antonia Rados of RTL is well-known for her coverage of previous wars - in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans and then Afghanistan.

Germany's ZDF also has a veteran reporter in Baghdad, although its editors are skeptical about the public's appetite for such news. "The ZDF schedule cannot devote itself to the Iraq war 24 hours a day," its editor in chief, Nikolaus Brender, told the German newspaper Tagesspiegel.

In Spain, where the government has supported the invasion of Iraq, the government-owned television network, TVE, largely ignored Thursday's anti-war protests in several Spanish cities. But it is providing full coverage of the war, aware of competition from the private channels, Antena 3 and Telecinco, which have reporters in the field.

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